When Netanyahu became Ariel Sharon

Ari Shavit in Haaretz:

Few people are close to the prime minister, but among the few who are, some say he has indeed undergone a turnabout. Israel’s might, not the settlements or the settlers, is his top priority. Therefore, had there been a proposal on the table assuring Israel’s security in exchange for a painful withdrawal, Netanyahu would not hesitate. The tragedy is that there is no such offer – and no such table. Negotiations haven’t even begun. Abbas isn’t giving Netanyahu anything he can use to put the centrist worldview he has adopted into action.

Under such circumstances, Netanyahu has two options. One is Shaul Mofaz’s plan: the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. The second is Disengagement II: the evacuation of about 20 West Bank settlements and their transfer to the Fayyad government. The Mofaz plan has major advantages, but it makes Netanyahu fear unlimited and unrestrained Palestinian sovereignty. This means he might be forced to seriously consider the other option. We can’t rule out that in 2010 Netanyahu will find himself pushing a limited withdrawal, just as Sharon did in 2004 and 2005.

Disengagement II will have to be completely different from its predecessor. It will have to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and granted European support, and it will have to turn the evacuated area into an economic prosperity zone. It will need to prevent Palestinians from smuggling in weapons and increasing their military might, and must assure Israel’s right to self-defense. Such a plan would have to be part of an overall strategic outlook that pushes both peoples toward peace through measured, circumspect and coordinated unilateral steps. A second disengagement would have to be an improved version of the first, a plan with a political dimension and an economic depth that would strengthen the moderates – Palestinians as well as Israelis.

If the prime minister dares to go forward with Disengagement II, things would be easier for Israel on all fronts. It would help Netanyahu in domestic politics, just as the first disengagement helped Sharon, and it would turn the prime minister into the new leader of the Israeli center.

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